1. For Black History Month today, I watched Glory, a 1989 film about the 54th Massachussetts Volunteer Infantry, an African-American unit during the Civil War.
One thing that surprised me was the identity of the guy who plays Thomas, an educated African-American who draws the scorn of his peers, yet saves the life of his loudest mocker (played by Denzel Washington). It’s Andre Braugher, who plays Owen on Men of a Certain Age. I didn’t recognize him, since Owen is a big guy who (as his dad says) “talks like he has cheeseballs in his mouth.” Thomas, by contrast, was slender and well-spoken. Well, as far as the weight part goes, I should remember that Glory was made a little over twenty years ago. People change!
When I first learned of Men of a Certain Age, I was eager to watch it because of Ray Romano and Scott Bakula, for I love Everybody Loves Raymond and Quantum Leap. I didn’t know who the guy playing Owen was, and I somewhat regarded him as an outsider to my little clique of me-the-viewer, Raymond, and Scott Bakula. But it turns out that I identify with Owen more than the other characters (whom I still like). He’s an adult who reluctantly relies on his parents, a car salesman who’s not that good at his job, and a diabetic who likes to snack because that’s one of the few areas of his life where he has any power. I overlap with these in many respects, but not totally. And, as I watched Glory and saw Thomas’ awkward attempts to adapt to the rigorous military training of his unit, I felt for him, remembering my own days in gym class. So I feel a kinship with two Andre Braugher characters!
2. For my weekly quiet time today, I read and studied I Kings 14. Abijah, the son of Jeroboam (the king of Northern Israel) is sick, so Jeroboam sends his wife to consult Ahijah, the prophet who predicted that Jeroboam would become king. Jeroboam tells his wife to disguise herself so that no one will recognize her. Scholars disagree as to why Jeroboam wanted his wife to disguise herself and avoid recognition. My hunch is that her disguise would protect her on her journey from Tirzah (in Manasseh) to Shiloh (in Ephraim). Why do many celebrities choose to keep a low profile when they go out in public?
Jeroboam’s wife comes to Ahijah, who knows who she is, notwithstanding her disguise, for he had been informed by the LORD that she was coming. Ahijah tells her that God is upset with Jeroboam’s idolatry and will bring his reign to a violent and degrading end. As for her son, Abijah, he will die of his sickness, but (in contrast to many in his family) he at least will be buried in a grave, for God has found in him something good.
For some reason, I assumed that Abijah was a baby or a little child, as you can see in my post from a while back, Loving, Even When “Unfair”. I thought that, in I Kings 14, God was pleased with the innocence of a little baby and was sad that he had to let him die as part of God’s statement against Jeroboam. But most interpreters that I encountered treated Abijah as a young man, since the Hebrew naar can encompass a broad age-range. In rabbinic interpretation, God liked Abijah because he had secretly removed Jeroboam’s sentinels from the border between Northern Israel and Judah. They were preventing Northern Israelites from going to Jerusalem for the festivals, and Abijah wanted his countrymen to worship God in the proper manner—at Jerusalem, rather than at his father’s golden calves. And, in rabbinic interpretation, Abijah himself went to Jerusalem on the pilgrimages, though I’m not sure what he would have told his father before he left! So, for the rabbis, Abijah was an adult.
But back to the biblical text! Jeroboam’s son dies, and the author of I Kings 14 concludes the reign of Jeroboam. He then turns to Rehoboam, the king of Judah. The text says that Rehoboam provoked God to jealousy and built high places, pillars, and asherim (see YHWH and His Asherah, Genesis 12 and 20 and the Reader, Samaritan Priestly-Line). There were also qadesh in the land, who committed the abominations of the Canaanites, whom Israel had driven out. What was a qadesh? That’s a debated topic within biblical scholarship. English translations render it as “sodomites” and “male temple prostitutes.” I consulted the Anchor Bible Dictionary’s articles on prostitution to get insight into the debate. Many scholars contend that the qadesh were non-Yahwistic priests, whose inclusion into the Israelite cult angered the strict, exclusivist Yahwists. Others point out that the term qadesh occurs within a discussion about prostitutes in Deuteronomy 23:18-19, so “male prostitute” is an acceptable translation of the term. In short, the scholarly consensus that the ancient Near East had cultic prostitution in an attempt to bring about agricultural fertility has been widely questioned, as scholars take another look at ancient Near Eastern texts. That’s spilled into the debate over the meaning of qadesh.
I Kings 14 goes on to say that Shishak, the king of Egypt, came to Jerusalem and plundered the treasures of the temple and palace. To replace the golden shields that Shishak had taken, Rehoboam made bronze shields. The glory that his father had built up was being removed. The implication in I Kings 14 may be that God sent Shishak to punish Judah for her transgressions. I Kings 14 is not explicit about this, which is why I use the word “implication,” but II Chronicles 12:2 explicitly makes that connection.
Many scholars agree that Shishak was Shoshenq I, who ruled in the tenth century B.C.E. Dissenters from this view are advocates of the New Chronology, who identify Shishak as Raamses II (whom they date later than do most historians). According to the Anchor Bible Dictionary article on Shishak, Shishak’s goal was to establish an imperial hegemony over Palestine, both North and South. (Some note that I Kings 14 doesn’t mention Shishak’s activity against the North, presumably because its primary interest is to show God’s punishment of Jerusalem for Rehohoam’s transgressions.) The epithets of his son, Osorkon, indicate that Egypt had such hegemony up to the end of the tenth century B.C.E.